You can add robocallers to the growing list of con artists taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.
A skeptical viewer who answered a robocall tipped us off. He said the caller claimed they worked for a Canadian pharmacy, and that they had a coronavirus treatment to sell. So, NBC Bay Area called the robocaller's phone number a few times, and listened to the same spiel.
On our first call, the person who answered the phone said she was selling a product called "Soma" — possibly referring the brand name for carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant. At first, she claimed "Soma" was a coronavirus treatment. When pressed for details, she said it was for pain relief associated with the virus. She offered to sell us 160 tablets at 500 mg each, for $182.
We asked where the "Soma" would be shipped from, and the robocaller agent said India. She also admitted she was talking to us from India.
Several minutes later, we called back from a different phone. This time, our call was answered by a man who identified himself as "Ion". We told Ion who we are and asked if we could record our conversation, and he consented.
We asked Ion where he is located, and this time the answer was Canada. He said he worked for a company called "Canadian Pharmacy" but he declined to be more specific.
The conversation took a strange turn after about five minutes, when we pressed Ion to explain what he was selling.
NBC BAY AREA: "What exactly is it that your company is saying that this will do for coronavirus?"
ION: "I told you, it will reduce the risk."
NBC: "It would reduce the risk?"
ION: "Yes, it will slow down the progress of the coronavirus."
A couple of red flags here: first, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says no medicine to prevent, treat, or cure coronavirus is currently available. Drugs are still in development.
Another red flag: the "Canadian" pharmacy was using a phone number listed in Emporia, Kansas — 730 miles south of Canada. (And 7,990 miles from India.)
Finally, thanks to some quick web searches during our call, we discovered "Ion" was actually selling chloroquine, a generic malaria treatment. The CDC says chloroquine is a common drug in India.
We pressed "Ion" about how his company's calls contradict what U.S. health officials have said. He then admitted their products don't actually treat coronavirus.
Bottom line: follow the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's advice and ignore these offers. Just wait for word from health officials about prevention and treatment.